The Left Hook! Archive


Sun., July 6, 2003

The Ambassador Speaks

Adds Fuel to Fire Over Pre-War Iraq Intel

The former ambassador who conducted the inquiry into the Niger-Iraq uranium story has finally come forward and publicly identified himself, writing a piece about his part in the whole affair in the New York Times today.[1]

Joseph Wilson IV was, by his description, "a career foreign service officer and ambassador" for 23 years, through five different presidential administrations. He has some very harsh words for the administration:

"Based on my experience with the administration in the months leading up to the war, I have little choice but to conclude that some of the intelligence related to Iraq's nuclear weapons program was twisted to exaggerate the Iraqi threat."

He lays out his part in the drama, confirming the details of his mission already reported by Jonathan Landay at Knight-Ridder and Nicholas Kristoff at the New York Times, and raising new questions about the issue:

In February 2002, I was informed by officials at the Central Intelligence Agency that Vice President Dick Cheney's office had questions about a particular intelligence report.

While I never saw the report, I was told that it referred to a memorandum of agreement that documented the sale of uranium yellowcake--a form of lightly processed ore--by Niger to Iraq in the late 1990's.

The agency officials asked if I would travel to Niger to check out the story so they could provide a response to the vice president's office.

This is a very important point. Kristoff had earlier written that his sources told him the ambassador's mission to Niger was undertaken by the CIA at the explicit request of the Vice President's office. An administration official, last month, told the Washington Post that Cheney's office only learned it had made this request fifteen months later when reading it in Kristoff's column, suggesting that the story was nonsense. Now, we have it from the ambassador who conducted the investigation that it was, in fact, carried out at the behest of the Vice President's office.

Moreover, Wilson concluded that the story about Iraq attempting to purchase large quantities of uranium from Niger was false, exactly as Kristoff and Landay had written he'd concluded:

" was highly doubtful that any such transaction had ever taken place. Given the structure of the consortiums that operated the mines, it would be exceedingly difficult for Niger to transfer uranium to Iraq... [T]here's simply too much oversight over too small an industry for a sale to have transpired."

Cumulately, this does serious injury to the later claims by those in the administration that they were unaware that the story had been discredited months before they began citing it as genuine and a premise for the Iraq invasion. Condoleeza Rice, appearing on NBC's "Meet the Press" program in May, claimed the White House hadn't known the story was false when it included it in the "President"'s State of the Union address in January 2003--10 full months after Wilson's investigation had concluded. Others in the administration had been citing the story for four months before that speech, as well--six months after it had been discredited. Its falsity was only revealed to the world on March 7, when the IAEA exposed the documents upon which the claim was based as crude forgeries. The consistent defense of the Bush gang, since then, has been to claim that they didn't know, when citing the story, that it was false. Administration officials have, on two occasions, told the Washington Post that the CIA conducted the mission, then kept its results to themselves! The fact that the Vice President's office ordered the Wilson investigation in the first place completely undermines this defense. It's inconceivable that such an operation could be undertaken for the Vice President, carried out by a former U.S. ambassador, and the results not shared with anyone.

There are other details on this question, as well.  In his initial column on the matter,[2] Kristoff had written that, according to his sources, the report resulting from this mission was widely circulated throughout the administration. The Knight-Ridder story by Landay quoted an intelligence official who even went so far as to provide a date for when the White House was informed--March 9, 2002. Landay also wrote that:

"The CIA's March 2002 warning about Iraq's alleged uranium-shopping expedition in Niger was sent to the Defense Intelligence Agency, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Justice Department and the FBI the same day it went to the White House, the CIA official said."

And that's from an official whom, Landay writes, "defended the White House's handling of the matter." Kristoff, returning to the subject on June 13, wrote that

"...I hear from another source that the C.I.A.'s operations side and its counterterrorism center undertook their own investigations of the documents [on which the story was based], poking around in Italy and Africa, and also concluded that they were false--a judgment that filtered to the top of the C.I.A. Meanwhile, the State Department's intelligence arm, the Bureau of Intelligence and Research, independently came to the exact same conclusion about those documents, according to Greg Thielmann, a former official there. Mr. Thielmann said he was 'quite confident' that the conclusion had been passed up to the top of the State Department."

If true, this means the administration had conducted at least four different investigations of the Niger allegations, all reaching the same conclusion, and that conclusion being the opposite of what the Bush gang was claiming in public.

In his New York Times article today, Wilson adds further fuel to this. He describes meeting with Barbo Owens-Kirkpatrick, the U.S. ambassador to Niger, shortly after his arrival in the country. "For reasons that are understandable," he writes, "the embassy staff has always kept a close eye on Niger's uranium business." Here's the clincher:

"I was not surprised, then, when the ambassador told me that she knew about the allegations of uranium sales to Iraq--and that she felt she had already debunked them in her reports to Washington."

This, thrown off almost in passing, is yet another indication that the administration knew about the falsity of the story, and knew even earlier than had been previously reported. Their own ambassador had made efforts to debunk it before the Wilson mission.

Wilson also offers details about what he knows about the dispersal of his conclusions within the administration.

Before I left Niger, I briefed the ambassador on my  findings, which were consistent with her own.

I also shared my conclusions with members of her staff.

In early March, I arrived in Washington and promptly provided a detailed briefing to the C.I.A.

I later shared my conclusions with the State Department African Affairs Bureau.


Though I did not file a written report, there should be at least four documents in United States government archives confirming my mission.

The documents should include the ambassador's report of my debriefing in Niamey, a separate report written by the embassy staff, a C.I.A. report summing up my trip, and a specific answer from the agency to the office of the vice president (this may have been delivered orally).

While I have not seen any of these reports, I have spent enough time in government to know that this is standard operating procedure.

In short, Wilson concludes, on this point, that "I have every confidence that the answer I provided was circulated to the appropriate officials within our government."

Stay tuned...

[1] For earlier details, see Left Hook! from June 13th, 2003

[2] May 6, 2003

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